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Poetry Friday: Janet S. Wong

"When I was a child, I never thought I would be a poet. I hated poetry! I never imagined that I would be an author. I did not love books."

That delightfully honest beginning sets the tone for Before It Wriggles Away, a short autobiography that Janet S. Wong wrote for children. (The publisher gives the age range as 7 to 10.) After I read it, I thought, wow, this is the Bird by Bird for fourth-grade poets. (Do you know Bird by Bird, the guide to writing by Anne Lamott? Great book.) Janet Wong illuminates her writing process in a way that children will understand, and dispenses simple, helpful advice for young writers by sharing her personal story.

What was the turning point for the "regular kid" who became an attorney but wasn't happy with the law? She gives credit to her "great teacher," the poet Myra Cohn Livingston, and cites Livingston's Poem-Making as an influential book.

"Myra Cohn Livingston...showed me that I really didn't know enough about poetry to hate it. I thought I hated poetry, but what I hated was studying poems, picking them apart, trying to find a hidden meaning."

Won't kids be able to relate to that? The autobiography includes photographs of the author as a girl and shots of her today—visiting schools, reading, writing, hanging out with her husband and son. With National Poetry Month coming up in April, I'd be sure to read this one to the class if I were a teacher or school librarian.

Poets' autobiographies and books of letters have made up some of my favorite reading over the years. I happily add this one to the shelf with the others. You can visit Janet Wong's web site and read some of her work, and her books are available at online stores and in the library. Before It Wriggles Away is part of the "Meet the Author" series published by Richard C. Owen.


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I'm going to have to get a copy of Janet's autobiography. She's one of my favorite poets.

Myra Cohn Livingston's POEM-MAKING: WAYS TO BEGIN WRITING POETRY was one of my teaching bibles. I learned so much about poetry from that book. Unfortunately, I believe the book is now out of print.

Another Livingston book I highly recommend is I AM WRITING A POEM ABOUT...A GAME OF POETRY. The poems in it were written by Myra's master students at UCLA. The names of some of the students in that class may be familiar to you: Janet Wong, Tony Johnston, Kristine O'Connell George, and Alice Schertle--to name a few.

Another great book to use in the classroom as a springboard for writing is Janet Wong's YOU HAVE TO WRITE.

Have you gotten much snow down there in Connecticut? I guess the leprechauns will be wearing their boots and earmuffs this Saint Paddy's Day!

Elaine, yes, it's still snowing, and has been all day long. At first it was pretty, and now, it's tiresome.

Janet Wong's book is one of my favorite children's books so far this year. If I hadn't read James Marshall and Maurice Sendak's "Swine Lake" earlier in the year (how did I ever miss that one?), Janet Wong's book would be my top choice!

That sounds great. Thanks for the review.

And I got your email. I'll get that write-up to you soon-ish. How's that for precise? Really, it won't take long to write -- just gotta find time. Thanks!

I keep coming back to Chicken Spaghetti for more servings of your great links and interesting topics and writing. Thank you for sharing, and if you don't mind, I am to adding a link to your page at my blog.
Thank you again, for sharing good stuff!

Natalie, what a great chicken you have at your blog! Awesome. That's one of my favorite kinds of chickens. I look forward to reading more of your site. Thank you for the very kind words about Chicken Spaghetti and for the link.

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